U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Do You Still Read George Nash?

For my weekly post, I planned a substantial essay connecting the last three books I read–Daniel Rodgers, Age of Fracture, David Hollinger, Cosmopolitanism and Solidarity, and David Sehat, The Myth of American Religious Freedom–but I didn’t have enough hours in my week to do it justice. So stay tuned for that next week. In the meantime, I offer a short post on a topic that is also substantial. Do intellectual historians still read George Nash, author of the classic The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America (1976)?

This topic is my way of sending regrets to the ongoing OAH, which I am unfortunately missing this year. Next year, I hope to be a participant when the OAH makes it way to Milwaukee (next year is the year of the Midwest history conference–in addition to the OAH hitting Wisconsin, both the AHA and the History of Education Society annual meetings will be in Chicago). You see, Lisa Szefel and I organized a panel proposal for next year’s OAH on conservative intellectuals, and George Nash agreed to serve as our commentator should we be accepted to the program. We styled the panel as a chance to review conservative intellectual historiography in the wake of Nash’s monumental work, which has been described as the Bible of Conservative Intellectual History. (Jennifer Burns reviewed the Nash book’s legacy in a 2004 Reviews in American History essay here.)

Here’s a small sample of the panel proposal that Lisa and I wrote:

George H. Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, first published in 1976, stands as the most influential book in the historiography of conservative intellectuals. To this day, it is rare for historians to challenge Nash’s thesis that the conservative intellectual movement was a big tent, under which traditionalists, libertarians, and anticommunists all gathered amicably. Nash, in other words, added historical description to the fusionist prescriptions of Frank Meyer and William F. Buckley, Jr. at the National Review, which probably explains why that famous little magazine pre-published The Conservative Intellectual Movement as a 47-page inset.

Although Nash’s big tent argument seems like conventional wisdom in retrospect, at the time it was an important revision in at least two ways. First, Nash helped explode pluralist notions of conservatism, laid out in that notorious 1962 collection of essays, The Radical Right, that psychoanalyzed conservatism as a symptom of status anxiety. For pluralists like Richard Hofstadter, conservatism was an irrational, borderline pathological response to the swirls of modernity. Nash’s conservatives, on the other hand, hardly evinced Hofstadter’s infamous “paranoid style.” They were serious intellectuals who thought deeply about and responded creatively to the challenges of modernity. Second, Nash’s emphasis on the autonomy of ideas, especially those regarding history and tradition that conservative intellectuals imported from Europe, challenged materialist assumptions about conservative thought as a mere mask for the business class.
So my question to readers: Do you still read George Nash? I still use his 1976 classic work as a sort of encyclopedia that sits on my desk whenever I’m writing about conservative intellectuals. But a review of a recent collection of his writings made me think I need to get caught up with some of his more recent work.

39 Thoughts on this Post

  1. I think any history of the modern conservative movement can’t leave out the neoconservatives. Here’s Franklin Foer yesterday in The New Republic:

    “…While this relative lack of celebrity perhaps cost him conservative canonization, Kristol’s significance to the movement very nearly matches Buckley’s. The latter re-launched American conservatism in the 1950s, bringing the disparate forces of reaction and libertarianism under one anti-communist, anti-statist banner. But under Buckley’s leadership the movement remained raw, disorganized, apocalyptic-minded, delusional about the prospects of repealing the New Deal, and poised perennially to suffer Barry Goldwater’s fate. Kristol did more—as an ideologist and an institution builder—to solve the engineering problems that plagued Buckley’s contraption, and to burrow the tunnel through which conservatism entered its triumphal era.”

  2. A heck of a lot happened after 1976. Maybe he kept up with it all, but just saying.

    Isn’t Hofstadter making a comeback?

  3. I think Nash’s work is important for the reasons you list, but, as I remember, one of the main problems with the Conservative Intellectual Movement was that it ignored some of the more unseemly sides of the conservative intellectual tradition. There was almost nothing in the book, for example, about race. This was the case even though National Review initially opposed Brown v. Board and supported massive resistance in the South. There was also very little about the magazine’s support for dictators such as Franco and later Pinochet. In trying to emphasize the respectability of the conservative intellectual tradition, it seems as though Nash swept some of these important issues under the rug.

  4. JJ: Yes, I’m not arguing Nash’s 1976 book is still the only important source, obviously. From reading this review (posted above, at the end), it seems like Nash recently has many interesting things to say about neoconservatism, especially in its relation to Jewish intellectual history.

    In some ways, Hofstadter should never have gone away. But his psychoanalysis of conservatism is a feature of how historians treat conservatives that should be buried. This is my biggest problem with Tanenhaus–he’s trying to rescue conservatism from those he deems crazy, all the while defending Buckley as a sane conservative!

  5. Anon: Yes, that Nash ignored the racial and gendered elements of conservatism is the easiest critique to be made (and one that Burns focuses on in her retrospective–linked above). But the correction to this, though necessary, has gone to far in the other direction, as I think conservative historiography is now too focused on race, especially, while ignoring or diminishing other elements. The way historians treat the backlash against the Cater administration IRS crackdown on the tax exempt status of Christian day schools is indicative. Though the day school movement undoubtedly originated as a response to Brown and its enforcement, by the late 1970s religion and morality were more important. This is the whole anti-secular humanist case I discussed in my post from a few weeks back. Yes, it’s difficult to disentangle race from religion and morality, but we should do better, I think, than to just say it all boils down to residual racism.

  6. Great idea for a panel, not only because I think Nash is still well worth reading but also very much in need of being challenged and, well, gotten over (or moved beyond?, not sure the best way to put it). Nash is still a necessary starting point for studying the conservative intellectual movement. The book is comprehensive (though noting what previous folks have observed, it has its limitations) and also just a very fine book. Nash’s readings of texts are often acute and he was adept at summarizing varying positions on the Right, despite his biases. The book is Buckley-centric, but at the time Nash wrote, that made sense. He saw a bit of the neoconservative movement, which marked him as perceptive, again given the time.

    That said, his interpretation of the rise of conservatism just does not work anymore. He modeled his analysis on Buckley’s fusionist effort, but was a bit taken in by all this. The libertarian/traditionalist/anti-communist formulation was deceiving, I think, mostly because it gives both a false coherence to these “strands” and confuses the salience (or lack thereof) of each one. (“Traditionalism” as a term is not helpful, and the position itself very marginal.)

    As historians now know, it is hard to understand the success of conservatism in purely intellectual terms, and hard to understand the intellectual history of conservatism focused only on Buckley-style elites. (Much of the intellectual drive seems to come from middle-range intellectuals and the grassroots; there seems a degree of interplay between these levels that I suspect is vastly underestimated.) Nash could not explain the success of conservatism even on his own terms. At a certain point, he declares, the intellectual divisions he emphasizes just disappear.

    Nash was correct to see resurgent laissez-faire or pro-capitalist ideology or hyper-individualism as significant, but there seems also deep drives rooted in nationalism and a sheer concern for order that are not adequately conveyed in his troika of terms.

  7. Thanks for your contribution to the discussion, Paul. I thought this topic might draw you in! Your points make sense. Some are made by Burns in her retrospective, including that Nash was limited by his scope, by his focus on high conservative intellectual life. It makes tons of sense that Burns would make this argument, since at the time she was working on what would become her excellent biography of Ayn Rand, whom the Buckley-centered conservative intellectual movement considered beyond the pale. Perhaps this is a good way to link this discussion to Tim’s post from yesterday about what is and is not appropriate material for the intellectual historian. I tend to be ecumenical on the subject, in part because limiting our scope limits the range and play of ideas.

    All that said, I really need to read this latest collection of Nash’s writings to see how his thought has developed since 1976. Given how good and important his book was in 1976, I expect we can learn much from his most recent writings.

  8. Excellent post and discussion! The points Paul makes are especially salient.

    When I taught a course on the history of modern US conservatism for the first time last year, I hemmed and hawed about whether or not to use Nash. And I finally decided in favor of it. It is a very good book. And it’s of enormous historiographical importance.

    Yet I also agree with Paul that we need to move beyond it. Like all history, it was written very much from the perspective of its time (the mid-1970s). Nash has updated it two or three times, but always simply by appending additional material covering later years. The result has been a fascinating object lesson in why historians need to revisit material that has been covered in the past. The post-’76 chapters of recent editions of Nash aren’t bad. But they operate a bit like epicycles in late Ptolemaic astronomy: creative, intelligent, but ultimately futile efforts to prop up a creaking intellectual structure in light of new data.

    IMO Nash’s traditionalist-libertarian-anticommunist framework is least capable of accounting for the rise of the new Christian right. And it also doesn’t do a great job of explaining how supplyside economics transformed old-style fiscal conservatism into the orthodoxy of today’s GOP (now Paul Ryan makes all his staff read the once-marginalized Ayn Rand).

    I’m also missing the OAH this year, but hope to attend next year. If I do I’ll look forward to your panel, Andrew. It sounds great!

  9. “Yes, it’s difficult to disentangle race from religion and morality, but we should do better, I think, than to just say it all boils down to residual racism.”

    Granted that it is not just racism, but I’m not so sure that religion and morality can be disentangled from racism and I’m not sure why we should try. Black people in the United States have long been criticized as being immoral and their religion has long been regarded as suspect by white Christians. So just because segregationists started founding Christian day schools under the banner of religion and morality–about the time that they would have had to integrate their children with black children in public schools–I don’t think that means that race was not important or not entangled with their desire. Conservative white Christians believed that African Americans were morally degenerate and properly subjected to white rule. In the absence of white rule, the fear was Africans Americans would devolve, so conservative religious whites did not their children to mix with black children. By the late 1970s, many conservative evangelicals stopped articulating this rationale (fundamentalists continued to do so). They instead emphasized religion, morality, and family values. That shift in emphasis is important, but I don’t think the shift should cause us to discount that the originating impulse was race connected to racial ideas of morality and religion.

  10. And to link my above comment back to the post, that is why I don’t read Nash anymore. A book that downplays what I see as the central role of racism in the beginning of the conservative resurgence is, in my view, fatally flawed.

  11. I agree with David about Christian day schools and the interplay of race and religion in contemporary conservatism (see Joseph Crespino’s In Search of Another Country for an excellent, nuanced discussion of the politics of Christian schools and their tax status in the 1970s). Thus its failure to grapple with race is a flaw (a major one) with Nash’s book.

    On the other hand, I don’t think race is nearly as central to understanding many of the people that Nash focuses on, even Southern traditionalists like Richard Weaver (though David–or Paul–should feel free to disabuse me of this view). And as Kim Phillips-Fein reminds us, for many of Nash’s libertarians, class was–and is–even more important than race.

    One other thought about Nash. He is also important in another way: whatever its inadequacies, Nash’s understanding of the development of conservative thought has been internalized by the more intellectual parts of the contemporary right. It’s important to grapple with Nash if only because his work has represented a core aspect of conservative self-understanding since the 1970s.

  12. I’m with David. There are many ways to be racist. One is to exhibit active resistance. Another, sometimes perceived as passive, is through white segregation via removal from public institutions, hiding under the cover of the right to gather voluntarily. To understand why some label the Tea Party as racist today (a label they vigorously resist), we need to look at “passive” forms of racism. I wouldn’t reject reading Nash because of this, however. I would simply read his work alongside correctives, whether from him or otherwise.

  13. An interesting question is how new is libertarianism to the south? From I understand, one of the ways a key figure like Strom Thurmond made his career was by fusing Reagan era libertarianism with race-based rhetoric, and that this was an innovation. From what I know the New Deal was not a tough sell in the south, aside from some of the resentment it stoked toward the northeast establishment.

    Also, the political fortunes of the conservative movement was largely made in the south. This was something that Frank’s *What’s the Matter with Kansas* overlooked:


    So race intertwined with caste-ridden folkways, and the south’s relationship with the north over this issue, would seem to be very important.

  14. In response to the “active” and “passive” racism analysis of the Religious Right, I wonder how that all encompassing mode of analysis helps us understand them at all? Exactly what action could (did) a New Right Christian take that would not fall into “active” or “passive” racism? It seems like we are saying that if an action is declared by the subjects, it is obviously racist (no contention here). But also, that if an action is justified through economic or moral arguments by the subjects themselves, we know deep down what it really was about. With such cart-before-the-horse mentality the historian then is just a victim of positive reinforcement of his or her preconceived, largely negative, notions.

  15. David, Tim, Ben, et all: I’m not arguing race is unimportant, nor am I arguing that it can be separated from moral issues. David, you make this patently clear that this has long been the case in Chapter 6 in your book on Morals, Citizenship, and Segregation.” But by the 1970s, race was far less of a factor in these type of culture war debates than it was in the 1960s, 1950s, and especially 1890s. Ben, I think Crespino’s argument is overstated by a long shot. For a much better treatment of the Christian Day struggle, in my opinion, consult William Reese, “History, Education, and the Schools,” Chapter 6: “Soldiers for Christ in the Army of God: The Christian School Movement.” Reese is much more nuanced because he analyzes the activists at their word–by 1878, there was very little discussion of race. Now, I’m not saying race wasn’t a factor. As everyone seems to imply, it became more implicit, more coded. But, I actually think race was more of a factor in northern desegregation struggles in the 1970s, such as the Boston busing crisis. For southern day schools, it was more explicitly about wanting to send their children to schools were they would pray and learn eternal truths instead of secular relativism. Now, because the eternal truth in white evangelical churches was different than the truths preached in black churches does not necessarily mean that race was the most important factor. All I’m arguing is that race is an important factor, but that historians have a tendency to overstate its importance. Now, Nash’s treatment of race, such as it is (nonexistent) is a serious omission, perhaps to be expected from someone trying to venerate a conservative intellectual tradition. But not enough of an omission to render it to the dustbins of historiography. We’re always too quick to look for race or lack thereof.

  16. P.S. Thanks everyone for the comments. I always find it amusing that the posts I put the least effort into end up generating the most commentary. Lesson learned: all one needs to do to get comments is pose a provocative question.

  17. @Anon 2:01 pm: There are indeed limits to reading what Andrew called “coded” racism. One can of course lose her/himself in presentist views. Then again, the philosophers have told us for centuries that inaction is a position. Inaction, passivity, and de-emphasis do not relieve culpability. So, if racial and economic inequality (i.e. injustices) persist in certain regions of the country where conservatives (political and intellectual) have been prominent, intellectual historians who deal with the 1970-present era are obliged to look for intellectual explanations of the political issues that have allowed inequalities to persist.

    @Andrew: Never fear. I didn’t think ~you~ were arguing that race is unimportant. No way. I was only speaking to the relevance of Nash’s account as an early intellectual history of the conservative movement. No worries.

  18. Tim: I wasn’t feeling defensive and hope I didn’t come across as such. I appreciate the conversation. I still think I’m right that historians generally over-emphasize race in explaining conservatism. One small note: you write: “So, if racial and economic inequality (i.e. injustices) persist in certain regions of the country where conservatives (political and intellectual) have been prominent, intellectual historians who deal with the 1970-present era are obliged to look for intellectual explanations of the political issues that have allowed inequalities to persist.” Lest liberals feel too good about themselves, some of the most nominally liberal cities in the country also feature some of the highest degree of racial inequality, Chicago being only the most prominent example.

    Leo Ribuffo wrote to me about this post, and the comments from Nash’s critics. He challenges his critics to (in his words): “write a synthesis as smart and comprehensive as Nash’s about Right intellectual movements from where he stopped except for the epilogue, that is from the early 70s. Oh, and do it when no one will hire you because of your politics. I’ll check back in 5 yrs or so.” In other words, Nash’s accomplishments shouldn’t be diminished, sentiments that I agree with.

  19. AH: Agreed ~fully~ on the areas of the country controlled by liberals (i.e. some New England states), though I would quibble about labeling any Daley a liberal, or calling most Chicago alderman “liberals.” A friend of mine from grad school and I used to joke about how R.M. Daley (and maybe his dad) was the best Republican mayor since William “Big Bill” Thompson. I’m not sure there’s been a more business friendly “Democrat” in the country than R.M. Daley.

    As for Leo’s challenge, I agree (generally). – TL

  20. Andrew: A belated thanks for the William Reese reference. I haven’t read that essay on Christian day schools and I’ll definitely check it out (for those playing along at home, a version of it originally appeared in Educational Theory 35, No. 2 (1985), 175-194).

  21. Andrew, I’m sort of dumbfounded by the claim that race was less important in the 1970s than previously. It certainly changed in its operation, but to say that it was quantitatively less important is, in my view, much too simple. After all, Nixon’s Southern Strategy in 1972 was predicated upon the continued powerful salience of race! As for the Christian Day Schools, I think you are mistaken there as well. The day schools were upset with the IRS throughout the 1970s not because the IRS had a problem with their decision to teach their children evangelical Christian religion and morality. The IRS had a problem with the schools because the schools demanded that they should be able to admit only white children. When the schools continued their policy, the IRS revoked their tax-exempt status. See the consolidated decision of Bob Jones University v. United States (1983), which also includes a ruling on Goldsboro Christian Schools, a group of days schools that declined to admit black children. To my mind, this is not a case of “looking for race.” This is a pretty clear case of the racism of conservatism staring you in the face.

    Ben, It’s been a while since I’ve read Nash and I don’t have it in front of me right now, but one obvious person whose racism Nash does not address even though he is a major figure of the book is William F. Buckley, Jr. Buckley supported massive resistance!

  22. David,

    Nash doesn’t deny Buckley’s support for massive resistance. He even quotes at length (on p. 185 of the 1998 edition…the pagination is different in different printings, I think) from the infamous editorial from The National Review that proclaims:

    The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas where it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes.

    To be clear, although Nash does not ignore race, I agree with you that he does not pay nearly enough attention to it and that this is a major problem with the book.

    Where I disagree with you, however, is: 1) whether this problem makes the book worth entirely ignoring; and (perhaps, since I’m a little unclear of your views on this) 2) whether all of US conservative thought can be reduced in some sense to questions of race. I strongly disagree with both these propositions.

  23. David: I’m not strident about this. And I’m not very comfortable being the person arguing that anyone take race less seriously, since in most contexts, especially while teaching, I make the opposite argument. And like I said in an earlier comment on this thread, in some historical contexts, the 1970s and even more recent, race needs to be more seriously considered. Historians, for example, need to better understand those northerners who voted for George Wallace for president. As another example, we need to better figure out how racism persisted at nominally liberal elite institutions like Harvard. I’m researching critical race theory, and its originator Derrick Bell came to some of his theoretical insights about the legal system’s racism in the crucible of how Harvard treated black professors. It would be silly to argue that race is historically unimportant in a nation founded on the dispossession and extermination of indigenous non-whites, and made rich by the enslavement of African blacks. It’s also very clear that the historical profession downplayed race well into the 1960s. So the intense focus on race is understandable for all these reasons.

    But all that said, I think the discipline has at times and in certain instances overemphasized race, one such instance being in the making of the modern conservative movement. Again, race was a very important factor here, but hardly the only factor and not always the most important. I stand by my assertion regarding the Christian Day School movement by the late 1970s. Again, race was the only factor of significance in the early growth of Christian Day Schools in the 1950s and 1960s. And it surely continued as one of the most important factors in the 1970s, especially in some regions, such as in Goldsboro, North Carolina, as you mentioned. But here are some other things to consider… (cont.)

  24. The Christian Day School population grew exponentially faster in the 1970s and 1980s than earlier, when desegregation first began. Some of the fastest growing regions were in places where hardly any blacks lived, such as in San Diego, where Tim LaHaye founded a network of Christian Day Schools. If you look at most of the Christian Right literature in the 1970s and 1980s, the vast majority of it explains the mission of the Christian Day Schools as fighting against secular humanism. Now, I’m no dummy, obviously some of this might have been coded, but I think it’s important that we take the Christian Right more seriously at their word here. As Reese writes, after his exhaustive review of evangelical literature (in the book I cited in my earlier comment): ““Emphasizing respect for God, parents, and nation, Christian schools during their formative decades tried to reconstruct an educational environment that many evangelicals and fundamentalists believed once existed in most public schools” (p. 133).

    The Carter administration IRS did find some evidence that some of the schools intentionally kept them segregated, but very little. Most of their proof was that no blacks attended the schools, which could have been said of the public schools in nearly every suburb of every city in the country. As such, yes, race mattered, but it was a nationwide problem, not a conservative problem.

  25. One last thing. It seems too many intellectual historians are willing to grant left-leaning intellectuals the benefit of the doubt, or room to change their minds, but don’t give right-leaning intellectuals the same. Take Buckley. Yes, his National Review supported massive resistance. But in reality, as loathsome as that stance was, it’s a minor footnote in the history of Buckley and his magazine. In fact, many of his other ideas, such as support for McCarthyism in the university and elsewhere, were more loathsome, even and especially the ones he spent more time working out.

    Since we all seem to have read Rodgers, I think Age of Fracture is a good reference point for this debate. He contends, correctly, that gender was the most important issue for the rise of the Christian Right and in the culture war debates. It’s not that he downplays race, but he puts things in better perspective. On conservative considerations of race, he writes: “the most striking event… was the rapidity with which conservative intellectuals and policy makers who had once defended the historical and social necessity of racial distinctions moved to embrace as their own the language of equal individual chances that had once seemed so threatening” (127). White conservative writers absorbed MLK (only the “I Have a Dream” MLK) as part of their pantheon. William Bennett wrote his dissertation on Madison, Lincoln, and MLK! Again, some of this is new code. Conservative arguments that the defenders of affirmative action were the ones still living in the world of Plessy v. Ferguson, where separate sets of standards applied, ring hollow, given the special zeal with which the Reagan administration justice department (including Clarence Thomas) quit prosecuting civil rights offenses. But, I would argue that the new non-racist rhetoric had wider appeal than the old racist rhetoric, often precisely because it was conservative but not racist.

  26. Ahhh. That will teach me to talk about a book without having it in front of me. As for the role of race in all of U.S. conservative thought as a whole, to answer Ben’s question, I don’t like how the question is phrased or framed. What we are dealing with is political thought, not just any kind of thought. So it is possible to say that something like, say, states rights is a legitimate and not-racist political theory in the abstract, but in practice to argue for states rights in 1964 was to take up a racist position because of the wider political context. As far as I can tell, the conservative ascendancy would not have been possible without race. In the 1960s and 1970s, this included overt and covert appeals to individual prejudice, a story that we all know. But even other the other aspects of conservative thought that did not overtly appeal to race—limited government, states right, etc—had appeal mainly in the strongholds of the Deep South where those ideas would combine with the idea of race. Barry Goldwater’s ideas, for example, really only had political appeal (excepting his home state of AZ) in the states of the deep South that were most resistant to civil rights, which is why he won only LA, MS, AL, GA, and SC (and AZ) in the 1964 presidential election.

    I will agree that conservatism has, since the 1970s and the Southern Strategy, ceased making overt appeals to racial prejudice (though conservatives continue to make coded appeals). But conservative thought continues to perpetuate structural racism since conservatives’ policies are so often regressive (I talking here about the flat tax, the decreases in the corporate tax rate, the offering of multiple corporate exemptions on the state and national level, the shift away from a state income tax to various taxes on consumption, the elimination of welfare, etc.). Since poor people in the United States are disproportionately non-white, conservative domestic policies perpetuate this structural racism without necessary appeals to individual prejudice.

  27. continued

    But there is still a core of prejudice that is embedded in conservative thought. Let me give a concrete example. Here in Georgia there is a state-run lottery. Lotteries are overwhelmingly used by the working class. In GA, that money is used to fund college scholarships, called the HOPE scholarships, that until this year paid for all of college tuition at any state school in GA so long as a student had a GPA above a 3.0. The original HOPE plan had a cap on income to make sure that the policy was not regressive, but that was removed after a few years. As a result, thousands of well-off kids whose parents’ income often correlates to a higher GPA began to receive the scholarship. This made the scholarship program into a voluntary-but-still-definitive transfer of wealth from the poor to the well-off. Since the Republican legislature has been defunding education in the state for the last decade, the state university system has raised tuition, like a lot of university systems, which eventually put the lottery trust fund into the red. During the subsequent legislative debate about how to change the system, Democrats urged that the income caps be added back to the scholarship fund to preserve the funds for the poor and middle classes. Republicans rejected the plan and reduced the amount of money that the scholarship offered. Republicans also wanted to raise the GPA requirement because they like the argument that the scholarship is a merit rather than need-based program. The debate exposed the underlying structural racism in conservative thought and policy positions. The Republicans consistently rejected any calls for adding an income cap because they believe that people can, through their own initiative and hard work and character, accomplish what they want. When Democrats pointed out that GPA or SAT scores (which were briefly considered as another merit factor) were correlated with income, Republican simply rejected the argument. They could not do anything else without acknowledging an underlying racism. After all, if black and hispanic kids tend to score lower than white kids, or if the working class is disproportionately non-white, then, in my reading of conservative political theory (with its individualism and its rejection of sociological explanations), conservatives can only say that black and hispanic kids are dumber and their parents are lazier. Those seem to be the only options, unless I’m missing something, which shows the continued relevance of personal prejudice and its entanglement with the wider conservative political theory of self-governance and individual initiative.

    My larger point, though, is that Nash does not help us even address these kinds of questions. And because I think they are among the most important questions to address since they deal with the kind of society that we want to be, the standards of justice that operate in this society, and the glaring contradictions of the American promise with its reality, I don’t really have much use for Nash.

    So now let me ask Ben and Andrew and others, why do you still read him? What does he continue to offer?

  28. “As far as I can tell, the conservative ascendancy would not have been possible without race.”

    This is key. This is what you miss if you only follow the philosophical arguments and don’t study specific policies and rhetoric. Also, I think it can help you reflect back on the philosophy. Conservative populism (which is partly the creation of intellectuals, such as the “Country and Western Marxism” of Kevin Phillips or Irving Kristol) gets some of its rhetorical oomph from resentment against eastern and intellectual elites and the counterculture. But also from civil rights backlash. All you have to do is look at the electoral college map of the Goldwater/Kennedy election results to see strong evidence for this, a map that Kevin Phillips studied closely.

  29. I got my chronology a bit off there, civil rights isn’t until Johnson, I know. But Goldwater was exploring backlash from civil rights events prior to Johnson…

  30. Sorry to be late in coming back to this. I’d be such a better blog commenter if I didn’t have to teach my pesky classes!

    David, you make excellent points. I can’t argue with your analysis about the nexus between Georgia’s gambling policies and race. Though, innovative regressive taxation policies related to educational funding are being implemented all over the nation at the local level, including in places where race is not as overtly an issue, which makes me think class is just important–recognizing the impossibility of separating out race and class.

    I still think Nash is important precisely because we’ve drifted too far in the other direction in thinking about the primacy of race to the conservative movement. He reminds us that traditionalist thinkers had philosophical and ethical reasons for their belief in order. He gives a good account of the libertarian thought, which can hardly be boiled down to racism. (Ex: Millions have read Ayn Rand out of desires mostly unrelated to race, as Jennifer Burns shows.) And perhaps most importantly, he connects conservative thought to anticommunism. I would like to see someone take up where he left off in 1976, since I think America’s diminished power is a major reason for the rise of neoconservatism and return to thinking about American exceptionalism.

    In your book you make race a major issue in the “Moral Majority” chapter that gets us up to the present. But you also write about other issues, that you make out to be just as important: “More than anything else, Roe solidified the modern conservative coalition by bringing conservative Catholics, evangelicals, and fundamentalists together under the flag of the Republican Party” (262). So I think we agree that there are issues other than race to consider when thinking about conservatism. Cheers.

  31. Hi Andrew, Agreed: Race is not the only factor when considering conservatism. Where we seem to disagree is that I am comfortable saying that race is the central factor in the rise of conservatism and remains an important, if not central, factor in the present. And you grant that race is a factor the rise and rule of conservatism but you think that perhaps its centrality has been overstated. Ah, the stuff of historiographical controversy!

    One minor point, and we can let this drop. Mike O’Connor pointed out to me last night (though I think he agrees with you in general), that the relative lack of people of color in a particular area is not prima facie evidence that race is not important. After all, a place might be populated only by whites because of white flight. And the relative lack of racial conflict (because of racial homogeneity) might be a clear case of the dog not barking–the conflict has already taken place and been worked out through racial separations of various kinds. That, I take it, is the point of Kevin Kruse’s book, White Flight. Why, after separating out of the now black inner cities, whites would go on to create Christian day schools in the suburbs is a little unclear to me (although, of course, that’s what they did).

  32. “He reminds us that traditionalist thinkers had philosophical and ethical reasons for their belief in order.”

    But if a belief in order is what the modern conservative movement is about, the past ten years have been something of a performative self-contradiction, haven’t they?

    Sam Tanenhaus asks a good question: what is the order the modern conservative movement trying to conserve? And if that’s a difficult question, you have to ask whether traditional conservative philosophy really represents the movement.

  33. Yes on the one hand, many conservative and libertarian ideas can possibly exist on their own, if you believe the ultimate truths exists outside of space and time floating innocently over historical events. However, I think it is impossible to separate how conservative and libertarian thought are used to defend and implement racist policy. The terms “states rights” and “limited government” mean nothing!, that is to say there are leftists and progressives who also, at times believed in, “states rights” and “limited government” it’s in the implementation where one can see a commitment to antiracism or preserving the traditional social hierarchy.

    I am a grad student in American Studies, and study the relationships between race, ethnicity and religion, emphasizing people of color and Protestantism. Currently doing ethnographic research in Pentecostal churches. What is striking, in my research, is the stark difference in perception between white and black Protestantism. (I am sure this is not new to many of you).

    Some notes:

    Theologically conservative whites (TCW) and theologically conservative blacks (TCB) share many of the same hermeneutics however they are night and day when it comes to political action. Theologically conservative whites are more than likely to support Republican politicians while theologically conservative blacks are more likely to support Democratic politicians.

    The specter of secular humanism stands tall in the perceptions of TCW’s, while absent in TCB narratives.

    When I ask “What does ‘Christian nation’ mean?”

    TCW, are more likely to mark the issue of prayer in school and 1963 coupled with Roe V Wade and 1973, as dates marking the end of the United States as a Christian nation. The civil rights movement and the equal rights amendment are absent in their historical narrative and yet those two dates correspond to those events

    While TCB are more likely to explain that the United States may have been a culturally Christian nation, it was always a viciously racist nation. TCW congregants are totally oblivious to Indian genocide and black chattel slavery; they occupy blips in the vast historical narrative of the United States as a Christian nation. And yet TCB will mention these two phenomenons immediately.
    TCW’s are more likely to assume theological conservativism and political conservativism are one in the same while TCB’s definitely observe the differences.

    Even the popularity of “End Times” eschatology and biblical liberalism, for TCW’s, seem to have corresponded to the dismantling of white privilege.

    Obama’s election really made the differences between TCW and TCB. Reverend Wright’s comments were seen as a traditionally conservative and traditional view of US history, while TCW’s perceived this as proof of Obama’s radicalism.

    Anyway, just some thoughts and notes

    PS, It is exciting and a privilege to see this exchange between academics I’m required to read for my qualifying exams.

    —Haven Perez (American Studies, USC)

  34. Sam Tanenhaus asks a good question: what is the order the modern conservative movement trying to conserve? And if that’s a difficult question, you have to ask whether traditional conservative philosophy really represents the movement.

    The Democratic Party is definitely a space where leftists and radicals of color work with TCB’s and TCL’s. (Theologically conservative Latinos—TCLs). Radicals and leftists of color have a harder time supporting the Democratic Party than TCB’s and TCL’s, I believe.

    TCB&L’s may have socially conservative views, but are not willing to give up the struggle over state spending and distribution. TCB&L’s look fondly on the New Deal and Great Society, and act conservatively to preserve those institutions. And this is where the term “conservative” is problematic. The Republican Party seems to be a “reactionary” force, no longer interested in “conserving.” It is much too radically reactionary for conservatives of color.

    —Haven Perez

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